Recent Posts by Jean-Marc Pascal

Isaiah Berlin and the Vexing Issue of Liberty

When Isaiah Berlin died in 1997, his conceptions of liberty and value pluralism were to be read within the dying tradition of totalitarian politics, as implemented by Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany. For the Russian-born thinker whose family escaped to England in 1921, Rousseau, Hegel and Marx were directly responsible for a warped interpretation of freedom enabling the state to force its citizens to conform to its own needs and ethereal collective aspirations.  His answer was a more realistic solution that ...

On the Dangers of Sophistry

In a world where the concept of ‘truth’ is being questioned daily to the point that it is regarded, by some, as a flexible commodity to be abused in the name of short-sighted self-interest, it is to be wondered whether philosophy is still of any use in an intellectual landscape blurred by so many claims and counterclaims. Socrates found himself in the same situation as ours when he could only deplore the lack of rigour and clarity of his philosophical ...

Mary Midgley: A Combative Philosopher

Mary Midgley, who died on the 10th October 2018, at the age of 99, belonged with Elizabeth Anscombe, Iris Murdoch and Philippa Foot to a formidable quartet of gifted philosophers, all educated at Somerville College, Oxford, in the late 1930’s. Midgley was a late developer as her first noteworthy article on ‘The Concept of Beastliness’, appeared in the Journal of Philosophy in 1973, five years before the completion of her book Beast and Man: The Roots of Human Nature, published ...

Hartmut Rosa and the Concept of ‘Resonance’

In a technological world driven by intense productivity and relentless competition, individuals are caught between the imperative to be more efficient ‘performers’ and the natural need to slow down, recuperate and revive themselves. Heir to the Frankfurt School for Social research, the German philosopher and sociologist Hartmut Rosa offers a new approach of twenty-first life after his well-received critique of our high-speed society Alienation and Acceleration, published in 2010. Constantly bombarded by external stimuli, we seem to have lost the will ...

How Philosophy Can Save Your Love Life

Rare are the books which combine light-touched erudition and insightful confessions. John Kagg’s ‘American Philosophy’ certainly succeeds on both accounts. This title may first appear misleading for an early candid exploration into a failed marriage if the author-narrator didn’t prove to be a professional researcher of the origins of this strange outgrowth of the Western tradition: American Philosophy. The accidental discovery of a long abandoned family library in the remote mountains of New Hampshire prompts a most unusual journey of philosophical ...

Philosophers and Politics

Disillusioned by his failed mission to turn the Sicilian tyrant Dionysius II into a Philosopher-King, Plato immortalised, in the Allegory of the Ship, the isolation of the philosopher in a world plagued by false ideas and unprincipled politicians. His mentor Socrates kept away from political intrigues to concentrate on his ‘daemon’ (or ‘spirit’) and how to reach truth through his ‘maieutic' method of eliciting new ideas through argumentative dialogue. Diogenes shared Socrates’ splendid detachment from public affairs as illustrated by ...

Can Nothingness Be Defined?

Nothingness is a slippery philosophical concept which despite its apparent immateriality has always intrigued philosophers, theologians and spiritualists of all cultures. Western Philosophy has its roots in Greek thinking and its inherent belief in ‘Being’. In Plato’s case, his entire philosophical system rests on a priori certainty of the ‘existence’ of Pure Ideas. How could we attribute qualities or defects to something without assuming the presence or existence of that ‘something’? By adopting such a position, we are left with ...

Philosophising in the Shadow of Trees

When gathering his students outside the Academy, did Plato urge them to sit in the shade of (already) ancestral olive trees or did he urge them to stand in-between the shadow of its imposing columns? Apart from the Buddha, longing for spiritual experience under a Bodhi tree, philosophers do not seem to lift their heads to admire these mute witnesses of historical events and by-gone generations. And yet, the first (possibly philosophical) conversations of our remote ancestors took place in ...

Existentialist Novels

The summer months are ideal for making forays into neglected intellectual territories. Existentialist novels are traditionally reduced to two major works: Sartre’s Nausea (1938), a rich study of a character in search of historical as well as ‘existential’ truth and Camus’ The Outsider (1942), whose non-hero finds himself tragically involved in a murder case. But what characterises an ‘existentialist novel’ if not the quest for fundamental answers to perennial questions? In this respect, all of Dostoevsky’s works fit this description and the ...

Herbert Marcuse, Catalyst of the 60’s Protest Movements

Today, who remembers or even reads Herbert Marcuse (1898–1979), post-Marxist theoretician and last proponent of a society founded on total human emancipation and personal self-accomplishment? In The One Dimensional Man (1964), his scathing attack of the ‘ideology of advanced industrial society’, Marcuse deplored the narrowing down of modern consumers’ aspirations as ‘they recognise themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment.’ Exiled to America with his fellow-members of the Frankfurt School of Social ...

Recent Comments by Jean-Marc Pascal